This November’s ballot not only has interesting local races but also contains the entire slate of Westchester County positions. Perhaps the most overlooked of them is the position of county clerk. This year, the incumbent seeking re-election is Tim Idoni, an old and dear friend of mine. He was gracious enough to grant me an interview:
First of all, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
Jim, it’s always a pleasure to speak to a true public servant like yourself.
Tell us about your beginnings: Where did you grow up and what schools did you attend?
I’m a lifelong resident of New Rochelle, having been raised in the second-floor apartment of a two-family house. I went through the New Rochelle public schools and received a bachelor’s degree from Iona College with a double major in English literature and American studies. And I have a master’s degree in public management from New York University, which I used as a springboard to a career in public service as a city and village manager.
What was your first involvement in politics?
My first involvement in politics was when two Republicans and a Democrat came to me at age 35 to use my professional background to run for mayor of New Rochelle in 1991. The city had major fiscal and economic issues, bringing everything down.
You were elected several times as mayor of New Rochelle. Looking back on your time as mayor, what were some lessons learned? Any things you would do differently?
Actually, I was elected mayor four times! The first term was tough as there were so many issues to address at the same time the city council met 65 times the first year alone. The most valuable lesson was to listen to everyone no matter their background and weigh each decision for the best of the whole. I was always a workaholic but you had to be driven to take it all in and do the right thing. There are always things in retrospect that could be done differently. Most importantly, I learned to not be taken off course by political naysayers looking to take you out just because you were enrolled in the other party. Government’s easy when you follow the rules and remain fair to all.
What were your administration’s most prominent achievements?
Creating a stable financial base, creating 2,000 permanent jobs and almost $2 billion in economic opportunities and rebuilding the central business district.
You were a very popular mayor. Why did you eventually run for county clerk?
I spent 14 years as mayor. I was ready for a change. I saw the county clerk’s office as an opportunity to continue public service and effectively use my skills as a trained public manager and the community service aspects of an elected official.
I believe it’s been over a decade since you were elected county clerk. What are some of the changes that have occurred under your leadership? What are you most proud of? What changes can we look forward to should you be re-elected?
I’m very proud to have developed technology, systems and management protocols and processes that have made the office the most efficient and effective in the state. I’ve reduced staffing from 110 to 67. We’ve reduced the budget 35 percent over the past 10 years. Our surplus last year alone was almost $3 million. And land records that previously took months to record can now be done in as little as 15 minutes!
I’m proud that my staff is not a bureaucracy, but a professional operation and that’s become a role model for other clerk’s offices throughout the state. Looking forward, I want to continue upgrading our services using even better programming now available, increase our already successful community outreach program in your hometown and develop systems to make things easier for our newer citizens and disabled.
Your present opponent has said some pretty harsh things about you. What is your response?
It’s just what you have to put up with in 21st century Donald Trump politics. I go to work each day, work hard and hope the citizens and voters recognize it on Election Day.
How does this opponent compare with the others you’ve had in the past?
Other than making his first run for public office in his mid-60s, not much. I always respect my opponents and try desperately to run positive campaigns. I think we have the record to do so again this year.
I know this will probably be your last race. Does that fact make this campaign a little more special than the others?
Each race has brought something new and special. Though I have announced this will be my last run for clerk, I still want people to know that I will still put in 50-hour weeks and manage the office as professionally as always. Their tax dollars are to be respected.
Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers that I haven’t covered in my questions?
No, your questions were very thorough. I just want to continue providing smaller, smarter government for four more years. The drive for good government still flows through my veins.
I want to thank you for your decades of selfless, effective, tireless and dedicated public service. You are a true gentleman.
Thank you Jim. It’s always a pleasure.